The Economist did a special report recently (October 3, 2015) on the World Economy. They talked about rise of China, the shift from developed world growth to emerging markets and the future of America. They concluded that the U.S. is still a “sticky economic superpower”.
The chart at the bottom shows where America was 10 years ago in a number of areas and where we are today. We don’t make as much steel as we used to and manufacturing is no longer dominant. But the U.S. still produces about one quarter of the world’s output (measured in nominal dollars) with just 3% of the world’s population. Pretty amazing. Our universities are still the world’s gold standard as is the FDA in drug and food licensing. And yes, Hollywood (and their power lunches) still rule the roost in entertainment.
In technology, our dominance goes from high to higher. Every new technology, be it cloud computing, e-commerce, social media or the sharing economy (think Uber and Airbnb) has America leading the pack. According to The Economist, American firms host 61% of the world’s social media users and virtually every cell phone uses a US operating system (Apple or Google’s Android). We have our problems today but our economic clout is not going away any time soon. We are a still a “sticky” power.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is very much a U.S. influenced technology. The IoT is the phenomenon of household, personal and business devices all wirelessly connected to the internet. Fitbit exercise bands let you know how many steps you have taken and also how you are sleeping, how many calories you have burned, etc. The Apple Watch goes light years beyond this even, and tells you things you didn’t even know you needed (and maybe don’t).
There are lots of benefits to the Internet of Things. Mind you not everyone will need a refrigerator that is able to survey its own contents, draw up a grocery list and go shopping online, but wearable sensors connected to the Internet which will help prevent sudden infant death syndrome or monitor patients with Parkinson’s or cardiac problems - now that’s valuable.
The problem with technology and the Internet of Things is how it affects privacy and the potential for hacking. Former Vice President Dick Cheney for instance had the wireless capability of his heart defibrillator disabled in 2007 to prevent the possibility of terrorists doing him in. Car systems connected to the internet have been hacked and engines disabled and all the information stored on your Apple watch or cellphone, how is that protected?
The legal system is racing hard to catch up here but everything is so new there are plenty of grey areas. Crisis creates fertile soil for opportunity as they say and a whole new industry is taking shape now to come up with the defenses to protect us from what we just created.
I have rambled here I realize, but the point I want to make is that the U.S. has slipped in many traditional areas where it previously dominated: manufacturing and also merchandise trade. But it has maintained its strength in other areas and in the hottest sector, technology, it has led almost every new advance. The challenge now is to protect us from the genie we have let out of the bottle. Be careful before you Google yourself. You will be horrified by how much is out there about you.